Issues due to the cultural differences between migrant anglers from Eastern Europe, who fish for the pot at home, and our conservation-based angling approach, have been widely reported upon over the last ten years. It is crucially important, however, that this issue remains in perspective: there is, for example, no army of Eastern Europeans eating their way through every fishery from Land’s End to John O’Groats, as the hysteria online would have the casual observer believe; the problems are actually and mainly in certain areas of the country, especially those with high numbers of transient workers. Those migrants who choose to make their homes here and adopt the British way of life, and embrace their adopted country’s culture, have largely responded to education. Indeed, we now have the thriving Polish Anglers’ Association in Great Britain, for example, who play by the rules and are totally committed to catch and return. It is absolutely wrong, therefore, to assume that every Eastern European migrant is fishing without permission or a rod licence, or stealing fish. Indeed, of the 157 anglers prosecuted by the Environment Agency for not having rod licences in December 2014, only five are of an Eastern European ethnicity – which rather puts things in perspective. None of this, though, is to say that there are not problems: there are, but it is all about perspective and a measured, evidenced, response.
Understandably, British anglers are angry that fish have and are being killed. However, there is an old proverb that ‘Those in glass houses should not throw stones’. Disappointingly, last year a well-known British pike angler received a criminal caution (which now remains on record for ninety-nine years) for knowingly fishing without permission; a gang from the West Country was caught netting at Christchurch and currently awaits trial at Crown Court; a sponsored carp angler also awaits trial at Warrington Magistrates’ Court for poaching; a lorry containing live, large, carp from France was stopped at Dover, illegally bringing fish into England at the behest of a drugs gang which stood to make a £225,000 profit on the shady deal; two men were arrested at a well-known East Anglian fish farm following the discovery and seizure of stolen carp during a joint operation by several enforcement agencies. I could go on, because unfortunately there is more. However, the main points are that we, especially well-known anglers, have a clear duty, given how anglers have demanded more effective enforcement due to the migrant angler issue, to behave ourselves and set an example – if we don’t, how on earth can Eastern European migrants be expected too? There is also another essential point: enforcement is delivered with integrity, straight down the middle, without fear or favour and regardless of colour, sex or creed. It seems to me that certain of those who have made much noise from their glass houses may find themselves regretting what they’ve wished for. The Environment Agency, police and courts cannot treat any section of the community differently to another – and rightly so. One problem, therefore, cannot be resolved in isolation – and we would all do, perhaps, to remember that.
Again, whilst there most certainly are genuine problems – of which I am all too well aware – migrant anglers who do play by the rules are understandably upset that they automatically get treated as poachers and fish thieves simply by association. Now that isn’t right or fair – perhaps, seeing as 152 of 157 rod licence dodgers were British, we should be treated with greater suspicion? How, I wonder, would we feel if the enforcement agencies adopted such an approach?
In policing, prevention is considered better than detection – for obvious reasons, and that applies here. The best way to prevent these offences is to educate, making clear our laws and conservation-based regulations. This is, of course, a constant process, given the ebb and flow of migration. Currently this is the responsibility of just one British citizen – Polish born Rado Papiewski, who initiated and manages the Angling Trust ‘Building Bridges’ Project. Multi-lingual leaflets and signage have been made available (free!), and Rado works extremely hard to raise awareness through engaging with migrant communities. Alienation is not the answer, in fact it is an absolutely disastrous strategy for infinite reasons. Integration is the only way forward, to educate, prevent – and somehow heal this rift in the angling (and wider) community. Every single one of us has a part to play in this, even if that means not letting your fingers do the talking online.
Whilst I fully appreciate why British anglers are so angry, a very great concern is how this is expressed, especially online. Consider this: racism is a crime with more gravity than stealing fish; the police are intelligence-led, and the web is a source of same. What on earth must non-anglers think, therefore, when they read racist, abusive and violent posts by anglers? All these posts do, and I’ve said it often enough, is show anglers and angling in the worst possible light – thereby reducing sympathy for and understanding of our cause. Indeed, at last November’s Wildlife Crime Enforcers’ Conference, whilst the police officers present understood the issues over poaching and fish theft, what concerned them more was the potential for a flash point over all this in certain parts of the country – and the division this is causing in our society. Time to wise up: there is a right and wrong way to deal with this matter, and it was the former that led Rado and I to the House of Commons last Monday. As Rado rightly said, ‘We need help’.
In the hope of achieving more support and placing this issue firmly on the political agenda, the man we saw in Westminster’s hallowed corridors of power was Daniel Kawczynski, the MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham in the Severn Valley – and the Prime Minister’s Envoy on Polish and Eastern European Diaspora in the UK; Mr Kawczynski is also Treasurer to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Poland. Having explained our problem, Mr Kawczynski said: ‘Clearly this is a serious issue of concern to many people – and “Building Bridges” is an excellent initiative of which I am fully supportive. Integration – not alienation – and education has to be the right way forward’. Mr Kawczynski pledged to submit a request for a Parliamentary Debate, enabling questions to be asked in the House of Commons regarding what action is being taken to address the issue, and establish what extra support can be provided. Mr Kawczynski will also be arranging meetings for Rado and I with both the Polish and Lithuanian Ambassadors in London – and facilitating further meetings with editors of the migrant press in England. Mr Kawczynski added that ‘Awareness of this issue must be raised, and more help provided, because such divisions in the community are entirely unhelpful. Those who break the law, of course and regardless of ethnicity, must suffer the consequences – but prevention is always better than detection, so we must all work together to protect our fisheries and ensure that angling continues to be enjoyed as it should be – by everybody’.
This response is what is widely known as ‘a right result’. We look forward very much to working with Mr Kawczynski and his staff for the benefit of angling – and are optimistic that the progress will now be accelerated’.
In the Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire Police areas, Operation TRAVERSE remains ongoing (please see: http://linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net/2015/01/06/operation-traverse-and-a-whole-new-dawn/). On 7 January 2015, together with colleagues Adrian Saunders and Al Watson from the Environment Agency, I briefed police officers at Gloucestershire Police Headquarters. On 3 February, a similar process takes place for West Mercia and Warwickshire Police officers in Worcester. All three forces, in fact, are working with the Angling Trust and Environment Agency on another operation targeting illegal fishing and fish theft – covering virtually the entire Severn Basin. This is likely to start this spring – and beforehand we will be setting up meetings with the police to brief the local angling community. Then it’s off to Cheshire on 25 February, to speak at Cheshire Police’s Rural Crime Conference with another Agency colleague, Ian Wood, before rolling in to the next two Fisheries Enforcement Workshops, both in the North of England (details of which will be promoted soon). So, as busy as ever – and no-one can say today with any justification that ‘nothing’s being done’!
Needless to say, I’ve been too busy, yet again, to go fishing – and whenever the opportunity has presented itself, the river has risen overnight! Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that I may get out on the Wye towards the end of this week – fingers crossed!
Dilip Sarkar MBE, Angling Trust National Enforcement Manager, 21 January 2015
For further information regarding migrant angler issues and ‘Building Bridges’, please see: –
Or contact: Rado Papiewski, Angling Trust ‘Building Bridges’ Project Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org or 07843 306661